A Thank You Letter to All the Bad CEOs


Fred Perrotta

Our CEO yells a lot.

That's a real quote from someone I interviewed. I was so flabbergasted that I typed it up, in quotes, in my notes.

For someone to mention this in an interview, the situation must have been bad. Even worse, other interviewees said similar things.

In a handful of interviews, I spoke to multiple people who had been yelled at by their boss, the nominal "leader" of the company.

Even the worst mistakes aren't fixed by yelling. Bad behavior can't be corrected with worse behavior.

Just because someone is a manager or a "superior," does not mean she is a leader.

David Foster Wallace summarized this well in Up, Simba, his essay about John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign.

If you’ve ever spent time in the military, you know how incredibly easy it is to tell which of your superiors are real leaders and which aren’t, and how little rank has to do with it. A leader’s real “authority” is a power you voluntarily give him, and you grant him this authority not with resentment or resignation but happily; it feels right. Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, the way you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you couldn’t ever get to on your own.

In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.

If you're yelling at someone at work, you may have explicit "authority," but you will have squandered all of your implicit power.

Yelling to exert authority is a confirmation that you have no "soft power" or ability to influence.

I hope I don't have to write a blog post to tell people not to yell at their employees.

Instead, I wanted to write this post to thank all of those bad CEOs with no real power or self control. Thank you for driving away your best people and for giving me the opportunity to hire them. Your generosity knows no bounds.